Community Centre’s ‘Digital Café’ keeps locals connected during lockdown

July 14, 2020

Two years ago, St George’s Parish Centre in Wembdon, near Bridgwater, received a grant of £35,000 from the HPC Community Fund, administered by Somerset Community Foundation, to fund a new Centre Development Worker for three years. The project’s aim was to reduce isolation and provide emotional and practical support through various activities to bring the community closer. No-one could have predicted that in the middle of the project, the country would go into lockdown.

Liz Birch, Centre Development Worker, explained: “Alongside creating a community coffee shop, one of the many things I’ve been able to do is create social cookery classes within the Parish Centre kitchen, which became very popular in the short space of time we were able to run them. We had small groups of five people in any one class, and I created various recipes to suit different levels of knowledge. Once the meal was prepared, we all sat down together to eat and chat. Some of the people coming along had never cooked, however they soon learnt the basics which gave them the confidence to learn a little more. Three of my attendees heard about us from their local Village Agent and were looking for company as well as the chance to learn a new skill.”

But towards the end of March, the centre was forced to close due to the nationwide lockdown, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Liz continued: “All our buildings closed – there was no coffee shop, and no cooking classes or community events.”

Liz then took the opportunity to creatively adapt her work in new ways to keep the community connected and support vulnerable neighbours through the coronavirus crisis.

“I joined the local Covid-19 volunteer group and have set up a Digital Café via Zoom for an hour every day, Monday to Friday. Anyone can come and say hi and have a chat, and it’s a great way of connecting the community and allowing anyone to take a space. We have around 10 – 12 people a day, and I’m hoping to open a takeaway café soon on a couple of days a week, using our outdoor tables. For those who aren’t online, we also have a regular conference call set up on the phone, which is a great way for older people to chat to others regularly and for us to check they are doing OK.

“I’ve also been networking with many local groups helping our communities, including a food resilience group, where local food manufacturers have donated food and this is distributed to people in need. I took a delivery of 300 meals this week through our local Village Agent which will be distributed to 30 – 40 different people over next week or two.

“Together, we’ve been making sure as many people as possible are being looked after in whatever capacity that means throughout the village. We’re increasingly concerned that more people will find themselves facing tough times when furlough comes to an end so we are ready for that additional demand.

“Many of the groups who use our Centre fall into the vulnerable category and so their returning is likely to be delayed, and opening up will only be viable when we are clear on the procedures we need to have in place to keep everyone safe.”

The HPC Community Fund is part of a wider £20 million commitment of funding, provided by EDF through Section 106 agreements, for communities that are affected by the development of the new nuclear power station, to promote their social, economic and environmental wellbeing and enhance their quality of life.

If you run a local community project in Somerset and would like to find out more about grant funding from the HPC Community Fund please call Somerset Community Foundation on: 01749 344949 or visit:

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